Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人) is a Japanese dark fantasy manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. The series began in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine on September 9, 2009, and has been collected into 15 tankōbon volumes as of March 17, 2015. It is set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by enormous walls as a defense against the Titans, gigantic humanoid creatures that eat humans seemingly without reason.
Whether solo or with friends, Humanity in Chains is a lot of fun, and captures the feeling of the anime surprisingly well. Even so, it’s not without issues – chief among them the camera. Camera control is awkwardly (if necessarily) relegated to the D-Pad on the original 3DS, though there’s Circle Pad Pro and New 3DS C-stick support for players with access to those devices. In the absence of a second stick, we found that frequent tapping of the ‘L’ button for snap-to-centre was the best way to keep the camera in line – but even so, it moves a bit slowly for our liking, even on the fastest setting.
Most of the time it’s not a huge problem, but for missions which require more precision – taking out specific Titans, or protecting an ally, for instance – the uncooperative camera can really frustrate. We failed one escort mission nearly a dozen times simply because we couldn’t consistently trust the camera to target the Titans closest to our charge, and when we finally did clear the level, it felt like pure luck – we had no clue what we were attacking when they finally made it to safety in time.
The headaches carry over into navigation as well. The samey environments – which heavily reuse assets and feature very few landmarks – combined with the nearly-invisible and always smaller than expected boundary lines within each stage can make it maddeningly tough to get your bearings at times. It also doesn’t help that the mini-map is locked into an absolute orientation – an option for the map to follow your character’s viewpoint instead would offer a welcome, more useful alternative.
These problems are frustrating precisely because they trip up the sense of flow that the game has in its best moments. When you’re soaring around the city, hopping from Titan to Titan, zooming towards weak spots and landing critical hits, Attack on Titan feels incredible. But when you’re slamming into invisible walls, trying desperately to target a specific enemy, or running away from the action just to have a few seconds to fix your camera, it’s almost embarrassingly clumsy.
Unfortunately, this double-edged quality extends to the presentation as well. The animated cut-scenes are crisp and high-quality (though they’re lifted directly from the anime, so they’re neither new nor in 3D), the Titans are appropriately creepy looking, and smart use of blur and slow-motion effects contribute to the thrilling sense of speed that characterizes combat. On the whole, however, Humanity in Chains is a visually underwhelming experience.
Character models are passable but inexpressive, environments are bland and uniform, and the astoundingly sombre color palette – while certainly true to the source material – is dull and uninspiring. The 3D effect looks great, but turning up the stereoscopic slider does a number on the frame-rate, which isn’t exactly stellar to begin with. A few thoughtful touches – like blood and blur creeping in from the sides of the screen when your character’s hurt – provide impressive moments, but they’re balanced out by a general lack of polish that makes Attack on Titan feel like a rushed effort.
Surprisingly, that also includes the translation; Atlus has a legendary localization team, but they were absolutely out to lunch for this one. The dialogue, story summaries, and mission descriptions are marked by awkward word choice and unnatural syntax that distract from the drama at hand, as in this wonky recap: “In the rearguard Mikasa has been aiding the refuge of the residents. Mikasa hears the bell signaling the sheltering completion, and goes to help Eren‘s vanguard”.
It’s far from unintelligible, but quite a few sentences took us a few passes to parse, and it’s a disappointing departure from the publisher’s usually excellent standards. Audio, happily, is Attack on Titan’s saving grace in terms of presentation. The soundtrack fires on all cylinders with vocal rock and metal, orchestral themes, and martial choral works, while Japanese voice acting and soundbytes lifted right from the anime give the action an authentic feel.
Fantastic and frustrating in turn, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains is a fun game that’s held back from greatness by several smaller issues. If you’re a fan of the anime or manga and don’t mind some rough edges, it’s well worth checking out; the beautifully breathless combat is incredibly exciting, arcing around town with your ODM will make you feel like a superhero, and World Mode provides plenty to play with once you’ve relived the anime story line – and if you can gather a few recruits to fight alongside you online, all the better. An underwhelming presentation and an unwieldily camera make it a tougher sell for non-fans, but if you’re willing to overlook those flaws, unchaining humanity can be a blast.